Lawmakers Clash Over Proposed Changes to Construction Apprenticeship Hiring Rules

State Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry (Contributed).


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HARTFORD — A battle is brewing between several lawmakers who disagree on whether to amend apprenticeship hiring rules in specific construction fields.

State Rep. Timothy Ackert, R-Coventry, a licensed electrician, claims the current state mandate of a 1:3 apprentice to licensed contractor ratio is a business killer and is hurting nonunion shops.

The hiring ratio, instituted by the state Department of Consumer Protection in the 1960s, requires a company to have three licensed contractors in its trade before hiring a new apprentice. The hiring ratio is triggered after the first three apprentices are hired. Therefore, a company would need to have six licensed contractors before hiring a fourth apprentice.

But Ackert told CT Examiner this week that medium- and large-sized businesses who want to hire more apprentices could be negatively affected. He explained that a company with 24 licensed contractors wouldn’t be allowed to hire more than 10 apprentices, potentially harming that business.

The hiring ratio only affects five licensed trades — plumbing, electrical, HVAC, pipefitters and sheet metal.

“They say hiring ratios but, if you think about it, it’s really hiring restrictions,” Ackert said, adding that 84 percent of the occupations in question are nonunion jobs. “The voices that have been shut out are the nonunion businesses.”

Ackert’s proposal to amend the hiring practices must be approved by the 23-member General Law Committee, of which Ackert is a member.

However, some lawmakers contend that Ackert’s proposal is premature. A law passed last year requires data collection on the effectiveness of the apprenticeship programs, which is expected to be available this summer. 

“He [Ackert] voted against it, and that is unhelpful because if you want to make changes, then you have to be willing to collect the data so that we are confident that the changes we are making” are sensible, said State Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, a former United Auto Workers vice president and longtime union organizer. “[Passing the 2023 bill] is something we did over the objections from the nonunion contractors, but we were successful in getting that done and the data will be collected.” 

Ackert believes a 1:1 ratio is more fair and would lead to more trade jobs in Connecticut. But he claimed unions are opposed because there would be more competition between union and nonunion jobs. 

“It’s just a bad statute right now,” he said. “The consumer is paying more for services at their homes, at their businesses.”

State Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, vice chair of the General Law Committee, agreed with Ackert’s efforts. 

“I would like to understand better why we have the system we have,” he said. “In Hartford, I represent hundreds, if not thousands, of young people, young people of color, who would very much like to be trained to become electricians and plumbers in Connecticut because the number of electricians and plumbers in the state is declining. They are aging out. The demand is there. I’m told by some people that they would take on more apprentices if they could, but there is this barrier.”

But State Sen. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, who said he’d vote to keep the current rules in place, said unions have worked to streamline the apprenticeship hiring process over the years.

“I don’t think they are getting credit for that,” he said. “Let’s face it, the ratio is there simply for safety.”

Kushner noted that the safety factor should not go unnoticed.

“A huge part of this — having the ratio of apprentices to journeymen — is that it’s critical that the journeymen are in a position to really have the ability to supervise these apprentices so that they are not only getting good training, but also that they are put in situations where they are safe,” she said.

While the Department of Consumer Protection instituted the hiring ratio decades ago, the state Department of Labor oversees the apprenticeship program.

A DOL spokesperson declined to comment on the proposal on Thursday. 

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950